Best money you can spend, new upgrade due out this month.
Positive Product Points
Easy to use, not too much smoke if you have any ventilation. Multiple roasts, no problem. Chaff collector works well. QUIET.
Negative Product Points
Small batch size, silly timer. Without proper care, it's easy to overroast. Chaff collector hard to really clean after a while. Mine had some quality problems with the roast chamber
I began my coffee indoctrination with my own little FR+ from SM's. I got the 8 pack, 1/2 lb. coffee sampler with it. The packaging is plain, and the instructions are minimal. The tip sheet from Sweet Maria's helped (re: don't use the fill line marked on the glass).
The machine is as simple to use as anything you own, one knob controls the heating element marked in one minute increments for a five minute roast and two minute cool down.
1/2 a pound is definitely not enough coffee to try this machine out with. Pick something simple, like French Roast blend (2-5 lbs.) so you can compare enough successive roasts to reliably repeat a decent roast. It helps to start with a sheet of paper so you can write down the recommended roast and corresponding flavor profile. I wrote down my roast times, and jotted down something to remind me of how the coffee tasted. It's a little work, but it pays off in getting up the learning curve as fast as possible.
When I ordered it, the weather was particular cold (rare down here in Louisiana), and the timer would switch the heating element off for the cooling cycle before the roast was complete. Not a big deal, just turn the timer back to 5 mid-roast and stay close to switch it to the cooling cycle.
It took roughly three months to get all the bugs worked out and consistently hit my target roast (almost always). The main shortcoming of this machine is its lack of temperature control. A proper heating curve would allow more consistent roasts with less effort. But it's a simple machine and does its job well enough if used properly.
I don't mind the small batches, and usually run two or three with a little cool down in between.
The main tip I have for anyone who owns or buys one, is to turn the knob over to the cooling cycle for about 10 seconds just as the beans reach second crack. This allows the temperature to stabilize, and lengthens the time for the second crack. Since I like most of my beans roasted a bit into the second crack, this lets me control the duration of roast better and prevents the beans from going too far.
Without using this technique, I notice that stopping the roast is akin to stopping a car with bad brakes while driving down a hill. It's easy to overshoot your mark, and the result is usually a disaster.
FOR THE NOT SO GOOD STUFF: I had my roaster 6 months when the adhesive that holds the glass chamber to the plastic base gave up and kind of hung there by a plastic tab. The plastic base of the roast chamber had begun to crack, and the plastic also started to crumble in several places. I machined a new aluminum base and put the chamber on that, but before I found an adhesive that would work, my cat knocked it off the shelf and I had to order a new one anyway. The new one came from Fresh Beans, and I had to fax an order form to them since you can't order off their website (BOOooo!!!) It did have thicker glass and came with a note about the line on the chamber being too high. The plastic was a higher grade also.
FOR THE GOOD STUFF: The new FR+ has a machined aluminum base (great idea, says I), and I think the glass chamber is a bit taller. It's great to see that they've improved it, and it only costs $5 more!!!
Sweet Maria's is awesome, I can't say enough good things about them. Super folks with a great website.